Friday, May 23, 2014

AllOne DIY Tour Planning Advice, Experience and Thoughts!

AllOne Family,
I'm sorry I've been dormant the last month., I've been trying to finished up my split EP "Creative Differences" with D.o.drent and ran into some stressful complications and then got started late on planning my next AllOne solo DIY spring tour which has changed significantly since my first idea of what it was.  The tour will be a month long and I will embark on June 6th, and visit and perform in 17 cities and even be in Canada for a few days!  I will get to my personal tour schedule later though.  I've cut off all of the normal live performances, rehearsals and open mics I usually do and have been trendily posted up in front of my laptop in cafes for hours upon hours a day researching.  Touring seems like such a romantic and elusive thing for people and people are often asking me how I do it, so I thought I'd try to spell out what I've learned thus far and the "routine" I've come to know when planning a trip.  I owe a lot of this knowledge to my generous and talented friend Alexa Dexa and her guidance when we co-planned the little piano, BIG MOUTH tour last year.
  If you have any of your own thoughts, corrections, resources, PLEASE comment and help us.  We are all in this struggle and expansive experience together!

"DIY Touring?"
      If you don't know, "DIY" is an acronym for "Do It Yourself".  I am a small act, I'm not signed, and everything I do comes out of pocket when I make albums, drive places, book performances, travel, ect.  I don't have a booking agent or anything, so all of the planning and booking happens between myself, hence the "DIY" title.  This being pointed out unless you have friends to help you do all of the connecting and emailing and phone calls and booking and ticket purchasing, all of the logistical planning falls on YOU!  If this seems like too much work, then work harder until you can afford to hire someone else to do it, but in my experience, this is the only way someone getting off the ground can expand outward! This is certainly not the only way to do things and if anyone has any advice or opinions, please share them! I am learning as well!  In my experience, it is a ton of work, spending more time on a computer than I would prefer, but it all works out to being worthwhile when you have the gorgeous experience of staying with new people, performing for others you've never met before, seeing bands you've never seen and enjoying environments that are foreign to you and all the eye opening, mind expanding, music spreading enlightenment that gratification that comes from these things!

How I Travel (MEGABUS)
 
 I have traveled on short trips before and taken my car.  Between the price of gas, the tolls and the wear and tear on the car, this seems impractical and impossible for me.  If not for the alternative travel options that are much more affordable, I wouldn't be able to afford to go on tour. Simple as that!  I've been using a company analogous to Greyhound, but much cheaper, called Megabus.  If you plan ahead and have a coupon code, you can get some tickets for a DOLLAR or FOR FREE.  Seriously. No strings attached.  Travel for hours, sleep/read/have wi-fi and pay no tolls and pay as low as 1$.  Insanity.  Even the most expensive rides (which I am planning late so I'm running into) are $20 and not much more!  The trick is also to keep your schedule malleable.  Obviously the more inconvenient times to travel are going to be the cheaper ones, tickets will be cheaper if you arrive in your target city at a weird time like 1:45 am.  The struggle with this is that if you are relying on the generosity of strangers, then you don't really want to ask them to just pick you up randomly in the middle of the night.
     It is easier for me to take this option because I have next-to-no equipment aside from some cables and a laptop, and I'm only one person and not bringing a band and equipment on tour, but if this is possible for you, I recommend it.  Of course you end up spending some money once you have arrived in a given city on public transportation, or perhaps you meet with a friend who gives you some rides around the city.  You are allowed one or two carry-on and a bag they put in a luggage compartment beneath the bus.  That bag/suitcase can weigh a maximum of 50 pounds.  I've seen countless people be outraged and shocked when the bus drivers weigh the bags and then they have to discard things or re-appropriate the contents of their backs awkwardly into carry-on things in the middle of a line of disgruntled people on a sidewalk somewhere.  The Megabus system has a couple dozen spots around the country.  They don't all connect so you'll have to "leap-frog" from stop to stop to get to some of your big events.  That brings me to my route planning point...

Where Should I Go? (route planning)
     You know you want to go on tour, to see new places, meet new people, perform in new spots and bring your music to others, but where?  When planning a route, I have to keep in mind that I am largely at the mercy of the Megabus system and where it is headed and how it gets there.  Your big cities you want to hit are places you already know people and have show opportunities.  Go where your people are and where is relevant for your genre.  I had a significant leg up in booking this tour because I had met so many people and kept in contact with so many generous friends over the course of the trip.  The trope of "its not what you know but who you know" is relatively true.  Especially when it comes to planning a tour where you are entirely reliant on the friends you've made and venues you've maintained a relationship with since your last trip!  I just read an article that called your strongest or most connected areas "Target Cities".
       In the example of Target cities for my trip, I had made friends from my last tour in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Philadelphia who were flatteringly asking when I would return again, so I already knew I would be stopping at those places.  For the example of just people who wanted to see me outside of the context of my last tour, I have friends and family and music fans from all different walks of life in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Providence, and Canada who were supporters of me and wanted me to make a debut visit in their town. Albany is an example of a place that is evidently relevant to hip-hop and poetry, I've heard from countless people over the past few years about this, so I made it a point to stop there.
    Due to the connecting routes of the Megabus system, I was encouraged to plan to stop in a few places I'd never been before, or didn't necessarily know a significant amount of people in (Burlington VT, Boston, MA, Saratoga Springs, and Pittsburgh, PA).  I knew the month that I was able to take off of work so that helped me grab a chunk of time to work with.  I started checking the Megabus site for where places to connect.  It wont always make sense (I'm going from Buffalo NY down to Atlanta, to Nashville to Indianapolis) in a linear fashion, but since you aren't paying for gas, those sorts of logistics don't necessarily matter!  So long as you can get to the places you need to get to, then a 10 hour ride is no sweat!  Bring a book, bring a note pad, read, write lyrics, post on your blog and share fun anecdotes with your following or just catch up on sleep! That is the magic of being on the bus!
   Recap...I find the main places I want to visit, I check the Megabus system of how I get from place to place (NYC to Providence back to NYC to Boston, since there is no connector between Rhode Island and Boston, is probably the stupidest thing I'm doing, but I'm now looking for a NYC date in between Rhode Island and Massachusetts so it isn't a total waste!).  Once I know where I want to go and how I'm going to get there, I have to figure out WHEN. That's when the big trouble of BOOKING comes in!

Booking Shows/Finding Open Mics/ Places To Stay
        The actual booking of the events is obviously the main concern as it is the entire purpose of the trip.  As I am doing this on my own, I've found a few good methods and resources for research.  Yes I'm using the term "research" and I mean it literally, you are going to be stalking out venues and bands and friends of friends of friends (ect) and anyone who is relevant or potentially knowledgeable and well connected and willing to help you in this area!  You will be collectively sending literally dozens of emails and messages and texts and phone calls a day to make this happen.  You certainly want to give these people and venues as much time in advance as possible.  I knew initially only my departure and return date, and generally the places I wanted to go.  I sent out feelers to my following in these cities and let them know a vague time I was coming.  My friend Steven whom Alexa and I met in Nashville, of Regdar And The Fighters was a very helpful catalyst for shaping this tour, as he was the first person to book a solid show, which gave me context of where I had to be before and after that, and the dates and places began to take shape, and my messages to people began to become streamlined and specified from "I'll likely be in your area sometime in late june" to "the third week of June" to "I'll be in ____ on __date and __date". You get the picture.! (Thanks Steve!)
     A few of the biggest factors in this that I've found though is the generosity of others (something I've thankfully run into A LOT, especially on a grassroots level, people who are involved in the music scenes and lifestyle are sympathetic toward your struggle.  People who aren't necessarily performers are often just excited and inspired by your pursuit of an ambitious passion and are willing to help because they appreciate and admire your ethic!  Of course there is also your own willingness to be flexible, having GOOD MUSIC to promote and a genuinely positive and polite demeanor!  By being flexible I mean being prepared to play to any size crowd or in any type of venue.  Make sure you can play a set for any sort of environment, be it an acoustic house show, a loud bar, an a capella unplugged thing, a radio show or a podcast, or even busking on the street performing!  This is just a good thing to challenge yourself and make your material versatile anyway, but be prepared to accept anything!

**If a venue or promoter gets back to you (about 10% of them will) with a negative answer, just response politely and thank them for getting back to you and then ask them if they could point you in the right direction of another venue or some local bands!**

    If I don't have people from my past visits volunteering to be my ambassador and book a show, or my local friends are not connected into the music scene, but willing to put me up for a night, then I've got to do my own reaching out to venues and other people who may be connected into the music scene. whether you are booking featured shows, attending open mics, or finding hosts of house concerts. This is where the research comes in.  There are several resources and ways I've come to do this.

NOTE: **It is advisable to type up a concise bio/explanation email/message of who you are/why you're contacting the person, complete with links to your websites and leave blanks to swap out the locations/dates/names of people you're addressing.  This is only for the initial message you people, it just saves considerable time when you're sending dozens of messages to people a day.  Once you get over that initial contact hump, you can revert to comfortable and more human and personal communication, remember, the whole point of art and a tour is to connect with people!**

Some resources I use for open mics/venues/places to stay:
www.DoDIY.org  This is a great place to find all sorts of contacts internationally into low-key communities/promoters/venues ect.  Most of the people who are posted on this site are there because they posted themselves, clearly altruistic and helpful people who are excited about music and supporting artists.  A great resource!
www.indieonthemove.com  This is a great community that I recommend any artist sign up for.  It's free, and its a great database for venues that are looking for bands, bands that are looking for shows, reviews on different spots ect.  The great thing about this database of venues is that if they're on there, you know that they posted it and are actively looking to host music, and you can also search and organize it by the venue capacity, so you know what fits your needs! Typically, the more commercial or established places are on here, but you're going to want to break into that market eventually!  As a side note, if you sign up for more premium accounts (which cost money) they offer you tour and publicity assistance as well.
www.reverbnation.com I use this as a webpage as well.  For free you can have a page with photos, videos, songs, post statuses, link to a blog, and have an event calender (my favorite and most frequently updated feature), you can post widgets and have an email collector for your mailing list!  As for tour uses, since there are venue sites you can look up all artists and venues in a given radius of a city, and from this I've found it useful to start messaging people!
www.badslava.com   A comedian friend of mine, Tori, whom I met at an open mic in Boston in 2012 recommended this to me (thanks Tori!).  This is a source used primarily for open mics (be sure that you're looking at the MUSIC section, links at the top, because the default setting is for Comedy open mics) which you will definitely want to play if you can't get a house concert or a featured event.  But also, you could just use this to help you compile a list of places where music is held!
www.couchsurfing.org  Musician or not, go build an account on Couchsurfing.org and explore the world and that community.  You can identify yourself as a traveler or a host or both, and you can having people from around the world who are traveling through you area stay with you "couch surf" or you can find people to stay with!  I swear by this website, and it was the catalyze of so many beautiful connections and experiences with generous and wonderful people around the country on my first trip.  Sound dangerous?  There is a review/recommendation system so the weirdos get weeded out pretty quickly as soon as someone has a bad experience with them.  This website is the epitome of how the internet should be used, to truly connect and assist people!  There are also forums for all sorts of different topics and interests and areas in which you can message people or put out a request that people help you with your quest in some way if they can!  and the community is nearly two decades old and globally active, so you can potentially find European housemates and such as well!
www.facebook.com    Can never escape good ol' Facebook! You're probably going to be spending a lot of time on Facebook, so people in the cafe you're at for several hours may be judging you for just doing mundane social media things, but don't worry, you know you have a much more noble cause! After a few of the obvious steps like posting statuses as a sort of call-to-arms for friends who might know some things, and Facebook messaging or group-messaging people in an area about where you're going to be there are a few other more precise things you can use it for.  You will posting similar calls to arms on all of the FACEBOOK GROUPS that you are a part of that are relevant to you or to DIY scenes and touring and planning!  Find the Facebook pages of all of the venues/communities that you discovered outside of Facebook and like/add them and send them messages as well.  Anyone you know that lives in the areas you are going to, be sure to ask them if they know any places or even ANY PEOPLE who could be of help.  So long as it is relevant, be sure to follow through on these recommendations immediately, and mention your mutual friend or local connect who suggested it to them.  Compliments don't hurt!  Once you exhaust these resources you can even look up the town that you are going to, these pages are resourceful, they give you a list of people that you know who have any connection to the given place and categorize them based on if they lived there, visited, went to school there, worked there ect.  This is where you start to get a little desperate and creepy but based on the relevancy, contact some of these people (if you haven't already) and let them know you'll be in the area and ask them for any advice!  You can also use these pages to find the links to other venues and communities and groups  that are relevant to the area and tap into these!
I also recommend you check in with all of these places and venues on google, wikipedia or other helpful resources!
Don't Forget To Use Your Phone! Texting and calling people that you know live in these areas, or go to school or went to these areas is an extremely powerful resource.  Get on the phone with a venue owner or a promoter or an old friend or a couch surfing host! Catch up with them, talk for 20 minutes or so, reconnect with them and see if they can help you! After thankless hours of cold and inhuman internet browsing and typing emails and messages with cold cramped hands and staring at a glowing laptop screen with burning blurring eyes, it's nice to just reestablish human contact with someone, and not just for tour planning purposes, but for the intrinsic value of connecting with a person!

Alternatives to feature gigs at typical venues (open mics and house concerts):
   Don't worry if you can't get on a bill at regular venue, it is really hard to break into a new scene and most venues don't want to book you unless you can guarantee them a big crowd (a.k.a. make them a lot of money).  Ideally if you're going to book any sort of feature performance, you're going to want to be on the bill with a few locals who are similar to you and whose fan base will appreciate what you do.  If you can't manage to do that, don't feel defeated!  Chances are, you aren't going to make much money playing these types of venues or events especially when you are starting out.  On some level, is what you want to at least to break even.  Worse though, even than making no money, is not even having an audience when you DO get shows at these venues, so you've no one to promote your album to, to befriend and to gather information about better spaces to perform or people to perform alongside!
       Open Mics
       As I mentioned earlier, if you can't get a show, just play one (or more) OPEN MICs that night!  Often, these are more lucrative and socially productive than being the feature performer at a venue where no one showed up because someone they never heard of was on the bill that night!  Consider several things:
1. An Open Mic has a built in crowd.  You don't even need to promote the show, most open mic has an active weekly audience/group of performers!
2. The audience is musically active.  Who goes to open mics?  Active and motivated performers of course!  Most of the people who are attending an open mic will either be performing or will be an avid fan of local live music, all of these people will be valuable sources of information and more likely to provide you with advice on where you should play or who you should perform alongside on next visit back (some of them will be people you can share later bills with!  They, as musicians and music fans who are excited by your decision to visit their local music hangout so far away from home are likely to buy your music and support your trip.  They have more money to spend on your music because they didn't have to pay a cover charge to come see you perform!
3. An open mic is a try-out for the venue.  Rather than disappoint a venue with a night where you draw little to no crowd, why not perform a killer set during their open mic with none of the stress of carrying the night on your shoulders?  If you do a great set and people appreciate what you're doing, chances are you'll be invited back to that venue, perhaps as a feature at that open mic, or maybe to have your very own night to perform!
    House Concerts

      Anything you read about booking DIY tours will tell you that the backbone of the modern independent artist's tour schedule is house concerts.  There are many helpful and eloquent articles about the social, financial and logistic advantages to doing House Concerts.  I'll give you a link to a great article here, all of the points of which I agree with. (read: "5 tips for finding people to host..." , "how to book a house concert tour" and "A musicians guide to house concerts" are all a great start).

   From a personal perspective, as a musical and human experience, I can say that most of my favorite events have been house shows whether home or away on tour.  There is an intimacy and attentiveness that is unprecedented and unmatched by most events and venues.  If you can get someone who is already a fan of your music (or not) to host it for you, they will be motivated to invite their friends to a great event and so they will ensure that it is a successfully filled night.  People are generally more willing and able to talk with you one on one and to support you.  It is also customary for house concerts to have a hat passed around or a sort of "entrance fee" to support the artist.  Often, you will even be fed and given a place to stay the night by the people who are hosting!  One great resource and community to book these events formally is Concerts In Your Home.
        One anecdote I can share is on my trip last year with Alexa to Atlanta, we stayed with a kind and gregarious friend named Max and his friendly room mates.  We were unable to find any events to perform during our stay in the area and so he asked us if we would mind if he invited a handful of people to his dorm room for us to perform for!  By Max's sheer socially connected prowess (he is certainly what Malcom Gladwell calls a "connector" in his excellent book "The Tipping Point") within an hours time, his suite was packed with two dozen people who watched Alexa and I perform, and in between songs they were adding us online, buying our albums on Itunes and in person, as well as just taking photos and videos of us and posting them (the wonders of the modern technological world!) and tagging thus promoting us. It was amazing time (thanks Max and co!) and I've included a picture from here.  Even if it isn't a big event, offer to perform for your hosts, we did so in Indianapolis (included another picture from this), another house in Atlanta, Nashville and a few other stops and people really really enjoyed it, even if it was just ourselves and two or three people!  These are touching and personal experiences that you really can't compare anything with from an audience AND an artist's perspective!

Once you've booked the show/found a place to stay:

    If you've booked a show, they might want photos or logos or link information to share on the pages and flyers that they're making for the event.  Send this stuff out ASAP, maybe even offer it before they ask for it!  Be sure to take meticulous digital AND written notes about where you will be performing, the addresses and dates and times of these places.  Take all of their numbers down into your phone as well as write them down.  The same goes for the people you are staying with, take down their names and numbers (in your phone and notebook, write down the town they're from next to their name, with all of these new names it can be easy to forget).  Be sure to promote the tour and these shows as best you can, send out invites to the LOCALLY RELEVANT PEOPLE ONLY.  This seems like it should always be the case, and perhaps it should, but especially if you're promoting 20 shows in a given time, you don't want to irritate people by inviting them to a bunch of events that might not even be in the same country as them!  Post links to your music on all of the pages of the bands and venues that you are going to be performing at or with, be sure people have some form of connection with this out-of-towner, and of course promise (and more importantly DELIVER) an incredible show!
    The process of booking and tour planning and contacting can be a tedious, thankless and defeating ordeal, take a step back and remember what you're doing it for, and keep moving with your work.  You've blocked out the time, you're going to be away, do everything you can to be productive and enjoy your time in these given cities and towns among these people!
I hope that this has been of some assistance for you and your bandmates and friends!  As I requested earlier if you have any resources or input please comment this or email me at AllOneVoice@gmail.com!  Thank you so so much for all of the people who have helped me along this journey, friends, family, venues, promoters, bloggers ect!
Remember, once you get over the "initial hump" there is "nobility" in "Mobility" !!
-AllOne
p.s.
As promised here is the path I'm taking. keep up with my tour schedule here:
Providence, RI
New York City, NY
Boston, MA
Albany, NY
Syracuse, NY
Rochester, NY
Buffalo, NY
Atlanta, GA
Nashville, TN
Indianapolis, IN
Chicago, IL
Detroit, MI
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Pittsburgh, PA
Philadelphia, PA
New York City, NY